It can be a terrifying prospect to go to school when you do not know the language. But, it doesn’t have to be. There are some little (and not so little) changes that you can apply to help you learn the language quicker and to increase your confidence. Just keep in mind that learning a language is cumulative. The more you work on it, the easier it becomes. You can try to apply some of the advice we have outlined below, or you can create your own or create a combination of your own and ours. It is important to find what strategies works best for you.
Firstly, try to immerse yourself in English as much as possible. Try to work on your understanding of what is being said around you and on reading, writing and talking in English in a variety of situations. Try to read books, newspapers, listen to television or radio in English to get a better understanding of English grammar, syntax and flow. It can be good practice to have someone you can speak English to who does not speak your native language (this can be anyone, a teacher, a friend, a tutor or a waiter at a restaurant). This will force you to practise your English skills in different situations and will not allow you to fall back into old habits and switch to your native language. It can be hard to do this for a long time (especially in the beginning), but as you keep working at it, it will become easier and easier.
Another important tip is to try to not speak English at home. Now, this might seem like the complete opposite of what we discussed in the previous point, but there is a major difference. Speaking the language you are trying to learn at home can cause the partial development of both languages, leaving the student with an incomplete understanding of both. Instead, speak your native language at home and English outside.
Do not translate from your native language (especially not using software). This is something we cannot stress enough. Translation can be the start of how you learn a new language, but the more you are reliant on it the harder it will be to stop. At the lower levels of learning English or with your peers, people will be more tolerant of weird phrases or awkward wording; however, later on, in job interviews or at work, people will most likely be much less tolerant. Every language has a very specific syntax which does not translate well. This is not even taking into account idioms (consider translating into your language the English idioms: “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “hit the sack”). You can also try translating idioms from your language and asking your friends who do not speak the same language what you are trying to say. Software can be a good start when learning a new language, but it is not something you should rely on. Often, the software does not translate well enough and can make the translated work very difficult to understand. Instead, focus on bettering your language skills so you do not need to rely on translating.
You can try to watch a movie in English with subtitles in your language. This can be a good way to further your understanding of English.
It is important to be patient and know that you will make mistakes. This is not something to be ashamed of since everyone, even native speakers, make mistakes or word things incorrectly. It is a part of being human. Something to work on though, is not repeating your mistakes. If, for example, a teacher or tutor tells you that you have trouble with verb tenses, it might be worth your time to work on fixing the mistakes. Some experts think it can take up to 250 times to fix something that has been incorrectly learned. Therefore, do not be discouraged if you keep making the same mistake over and over again. Eventually, with enough practice and work, you will fix it.
Do not be afraid to ask questions when you do not understand. A lot of students, especially ESL students, hesitate to ask questions when they are unsure. One of the ways that people learn is by asking questions. If you do not want to ask in front of the whole class, that is fine, but remember to ask the teacher in private or through another medium (e.g. e-mail), as this is what will help you learn. A lot of ESL students do not ask questions because they think others in the class already know this and they do not want the other students to tease them. If your question is about the material being covered, chances are that others have the same questions too. If your question is about sentence structure or a non-technical word you do not understand (unless you are in English class), it might be better to ask the teacher in private to not disrupt the class. If you are embarrassed to ask your teacher during class (but need to know the answer as soon as possible), consider asking a friend or classmate for help. Everyone struggles with something, and there is no shame in asking for help.
Sometimes, students, especially those whose first language is not English, can struggle with being immersed in an English-speaking school. It can be hard for a while, but if you keep at it, there will be a point when it gets a lot easier (you might not even be aware of this point until much later when you look back). It can also be tempting to practise English with your family or people who speak the same language as you. It is fine to talk for a bit in English but be careful not to lose your native language in the process (there are a lot of people who have forgotten their first language because they spoke English with their family). Next, do not use software to translate and do not translate from your language as this is not the way to learn a language properly. Instead, be prepared to make mistakes (and learn from them) and do not be afraid to ask for help. Often students have trouble asking questions because they think that their questions are due to their not understanding English and not due to the subject matter. We won’t lie to you and say that learning a new language is easy (it’s not), but with some persistence and asking the right people for help, it doesn’t have to be a terrifying experience.
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